4/21/2022

WASHINGTON – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that its order requiring masking on planes and other public transit is still needed, setting in motion a Justice Department appeal of a federal court decision that overturned the mandate.

“It is CDC’s continuing assessment that at this time an order requiring masking in the indoor transportation corridor remains necessary for the public health,” the agency said in a Wednesday statement. “CDC will continue to monitor public health conditions to determine whether such an order remains necessary. CDC believes this is a lawful order, well within CDC’s legal authority to protect public health.”

Following the CDC statement, Justice immediately filed a notice of appeal.

“In light of today’s assessment by the CDC that an order requiring masking in the transportation corridor remains necessary to protect the public health, the Department has filed a notice of appeal,” the Justice Department said.

4/19/2022

The federal government said Monday passengers traveling on airplanes and other forms of public transportation won’t be required to wear a face mask for now after a federal judge in Florida voided the mandate.

The decision Monday by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa says the federal mask mandate exceeded the authority of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which failed to justify the order and didn’t follow proper rulemaking procedures.

The mask mandate, announced in January 2021, had been set to expire Monday. The CDC announced last week that it would extend the mandate 15 days to allow more time to study the BA.2 omicron subvariant of the coronavirus that is responsible for the majority of cases in the U.S. It was the mask mandate’s fifth extension despite repeated requests from airlines and other travel industry officials to ease restrictions. 

A Biden administration official said the ruling means that, for now, the mask mandate is not in effect. Federal agencies are reviewing the decision and assessing potential next steps, the official said, but the Transportation Security Administration will not enforce the mandate at this time. The official noted that the CDC recommends that people continue to wear masks in indoor public transportation settings.

The sudden policy change has resulted in a confusing travel environment, with some companies dropping their mask mandate while others wait for clarification on the new guidance. United, American, Southwest, Delta, Alaska and other airlines announced that masks would be optional on domestic flights and in airports. Amtrak also said passengers would no longer need to mask up on trains or in stations. Coach USA and Megabus said masks would no longer be required on their buses but added, “please be mindful that masks may still be required while traveling through the bus stations we serve. Uber said masks would no longer be required “but the CDC still recommends wearing them.” Lyft made masks optional, but reminded users, “As always, drivers or riders can decline to accept or cancel any ride they don’t wish to take.”

The mask requirement for travelers was the target of months of lobbying from the airlines, which sought to kill it. The carriers argued that effective air filters on modern planes make transmission of the virus during a flight highly unlikely. Republicans in Congress also fought to kill the mandate.

Critics seized on the fact that states rolled back rules requiring masks in restaurants, stores and other indoor settings, yet COVID-19 cases have fallen sharply since the omicron variant peaked in mid-January.

The judge who issued the ruling was appointed to the bench by then-President Donald Trump in August 2020 and was confirmed by the Senate the following November on a 49-41 vote. Mizelle was 33, making her the youngest of Trump’s judicial appointees and one of the youngest judges in the country.

Judge Mizelle had eight years of legal experience at the time of her appointment. A majority of the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee rated her as “Not Qualified” for the judgeship, pointing to “the short time she has actually practiced law and her lack of meaningful trial experience.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the judge’s ruling “disappointing” and noted that the CDC recommends passengers continue to wear masks. The CDC, the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department are all reviewing the judge’s decision, she said.